Nurses are the unsung MVPs of the medical system.
They save lives. They keep hospitals running and doctors on task. They see the person in the patient file and care for that person (and their loved ones) during what is, in many cases, the most turbulent and terrifying days of their lives.
There is no functioning medical system without nurses.
Given the monumental role nurses play in hospitals and healing, it should boggle the mind that there haven’t been dozens of television series dedicated to nursing life. There have been a few (Nurse Jackie), but often when nurses show up on television, they’re there as part of a larger medical drama that is, more often than not, centred on doctors (as was Major Margaret “Hot Lips” Houlihan’s lot in life on M*A*S*H).
The historic scarcity of television series about nurses is likely attributable to sexism, but that’s another column for another day.
But Nurses bucks that trend. The new Global series — which premiered Jan. 6 and has already been renewed for a second season — shines the spotlight on a group of five nurses who are honing their skills and finding their way in a busy Toronto hospital.
One of those young nurses — Nazneen Khan, an immigrant from India — is portrayed by Vancouver actress Sandy Sidhu.
“Nazneen is the role I’ve been waiting my whole life for,” says Sidhu.
You could even say that Sidhu has been actively preparing for this role all of her life. Sidhu (who was nominated for a 2019 Leo Award for Frozen in Love) was pre-med at UBC before deep-diving into acting, and her mother, like Nazneen, is an immigrant from India and a nurse.
“My mother is a nurse who cares, who’s never checked out, who is a hero in people’s lives on a daily basis and who doesn’t care for attention,” says Sidhu. “This is work she does out of pure selflessness.”
Similarities to Sidhu’s family aside, Nazneen is very much her own person. She’s the whip-smart daughter of a wealthy family from India who moves to Canada to reinvent herself.
“Nazneen is such a grounded, authentic, brave, funny, challenging and very inspiring character to play, and I’ve had a gas,” says Sidhu. “I feel like the show gave me another 20 years to keep going in this industry.”
The series’ five core nurses represent an array of genders, cultural backgrounds and sexual orientations — like any real nursing team. “The diversity of the writer’s room is evident when you watch our show,” says Sidhu. “The characters all come from such diverse points of view, and I was blown away by how the writers were able to hook into my authenticity in my character and support it.”
Nurses’ pilot episode follows the aftermath of a van attack. The subject was especially meaningful for cast and crew who were affected by the April 2018 van attack on Toronto’s Yonge Street, which claimed 10 lives and injured 16.
“It was important we did our jobs right,” says Sidhu, who describes the mood on the set for that particular episode as solemn and determined. “It was important to put faces to the victims and show the ways that an entire community is harmed when something like this happens. And we wanted to share that journey in a non-exploitative way.”
Nurses also stars Tiera Skovbye (Riverdale’s Polly Cooper), Natasha Calis, Jordan Johnson-Hinds, and Donald Maclean Jr. Its showrunner is Adam Pettle (Burden of Truth, Saving Hope).
“Everyone on the show was really dedicated to honouring the legacy of nurses, and putting these unsung heroes at the forefront,” adds Sidhu. “When we walk into a hospital, the people who work there, you want to know that they care about you, that you matter. Because you do matter. And no one sees you more on an hourly basis than a nurse. For whatever reason, that part of the equation hasn’t been explored as much in the landscape of medical dramas. Not to slight doctors, but we’re saying, ‘There’s a huge narrative about people who care about our community that we want to share.’”
Nurses airs Mondays at 8 p.m. on Global.